After shooting 66 percent from the line last season with a young team, the veteran Badgers easily took an early step backwards in game number one on the season. With the Badgers in the bonus for 23:16 of game time, Wisconsin shot 12-of-27 from the line, for a miserable total of 44.4 percent. Mercer didn't shoot any better, going 5-for-12, but nearly didn't throw up as many bricks as Wisconsin did.
The biggest culprit of the day was Brian Butch, who went 2-for-6 from the charity stripe after advancing to the free-throw championship round in last week's practice. The sudden drop off is something that Bo Ryan simply can't explain.
"I don't know; get there and then let's make them," Ryan said. "Between [Butch and Tucker] going 3-for-10, they know they are better than that. If we get 70-80 percent from those two for the rest of the games in the season, that's pretty good. They didn't move the line and they didn't move the rim."
Bring them on in
It may count as the Badgers' first regular season win, but Bo Ryan was anything but set in his ways on Sunday afternoon, mainly with his rotation. In addition to starters Butch, Alando Tucker, Jason Chappell, Michael Flowers and Kammron Taylor, Ryan sent six Badgers on the floor for a variety of different looks and feels against Mercer, a team not noted for their height.
Ryan went big at 12:36 in the first half with Jason Bohannon, Butch, Joe Krabbenhoft, Marcus Landry and Stiemsma roaming the floor. Just two minutes later, Ryan went semi-small, inserting Mickey Perry and Tucker into the lineup. Although neither of the rotations exploded for a big run, they kept Mercer at an arm's reach, not allowing the Bears to get closer than seven after the midway mark in first half.
"I felt we moved the ball well, good ball fakes, didn't turn the ball over and tried to touch the post," Bo Ryan said. "I thought we moved the ball well and got some good looks [against their zone]."
The Taylor and Tucker Show
One of the many things that have earned the Badgers a high pre-season ranking was the fact that Wisconsin returned 90 percent of their scoring from a season ago. On opening night, Taylor stole the first half spotlight, while Tucker came out of the encore in the second. Taylor scored 18 points in the first half to lead all first-half totals, the next closest was Mercer's Montavious Waters with seven, and Tucker exploded for 16 in the second. Taylor led all scored with 22 and drew a high praise from the Mercer's coach.
"We don't get a chance to see Wisconsin a whole lot down in Georgia," Mercer head coach Mark Slonaker said. "Seeing him on tape and in person, I am really impressed with [Taylor]. Tucker deserves the accolades he gets, but for me personality and the games I saw, I thought he was their best played in a lot of games."
Not wanting to run man defense against Wisconsin, Slonaker had Mercer run a zone for much of the first half in hopes of throwing a different look at the Badgers. Although the zone caused some headaches among some of other Badgers, Taylor's 18 points forced Slonaker's hand to change back to man defense.
"I didn't want to run man and make them get comfortable," Slonaker said. "I figured to run a zone and keep them out [of the paint] and make them shoot some perimeter shots. Taylor got it going and I knew I couldn't play zone like this since we would get discouraged. They were just too much for us."
Wisconsin was also able to find the open man in Mercer's defense, with the Badgers registering 16 assists on the afternoon.
"[Assists] haven't been a problem with our teams," Ryan said. "The guys like playing with one another and distribute and find open guys. It can come from two or three or who's in the opportune position to make a pass [that] leads to a bucket. We'll take them from whomever we can get them."
Cover your mouth
The unsung hero of the game was sophomore Joe Krabbenhoft. Playing only 20 minutes, Krabbenhoft was constantly diving for loose balls on the floor and grabbing rebounds off the glass. His seven points were third highest on the team and his 10 rebounds led all Badgers. When asked to describe the play of Krabbenhoft, Bo Ryan gave Joe a unique compliment as only Bo Ryan can.
"I'm glad that the fillings in my teeth are pretty well secure because Joe was grabbing everything in the Kohl Center," Ryan said. "He has ruined our training budget. We've had to ask for more supplies because of Joe. When J.P. got nailed in the eye and needed stitches, we didn't have any left. I think Gavinski said he had some fishing tackle out in the car."